We collected Solidago altissima clones to explore their leaf damage resistance, and as a result identified five accessions that exhibited variable defense abilities against the generalist herbivore Spodoptera litura. In order to characterize molecules involved in such natural variation, we focused on ethylene response factors (ERFs) that exhibited distinct transcription patterns in the leaves of the five accessions (e.g., S1 and S2) after wounding: the transcript of SaERF1 and SaERF2 was induced in wounded S1 and S2 leaves, respectively. Although transcription levels of SaERFs in leaves of the five accessions did not correlate with the accessions’ phytohormone levels, these transcription levels accorded with the possibility that ethylene and jasmonate signaling play crucial roles in wound-induced transcription of SaERF1 in S1 leaves, and SaERF2 in S2 leaves, respectively. SaERF1 was found to be a positive regulator of the GCC box and DRE element in the upstream regions of promoters of defense genes, whereas SaERF2 served as a negative regulator of genes controlled through the GCC box. Transgenic Arabidopsis plants expressing SaERF1 or SaERF2 showed enhanced and suppressed transcript levels, respectively, of a defensin gene, indicating that ERFs may be partly responsible for herbivore resistance properties of S. altissima accessions.
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